NORWALK, Conn. — The negative tone, the distrust, the disrespect and the overwork all add up to “no way to run a (school) district,” leaders of three unions told the Norwalk Board of Education on Tuesday.
The Board of Education Coalition, representing unionized administrators, certified teachers, custodians and others, was formed during the pandemic and “continues to be useful to navigate the extreme experience of working under Dr. Estrella and her Central Office team,” Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon said, flanked at the City Hall lectern by Norwalk Association of School Administrators (NASA) President Lynne Moore and Norwalk Federation of Education Personnel (NFEP) President Hope Coles.
“Our message is simple. We need more trust and respect in this district. Trust us to understand how to do our work and respect us as professionals and dedicated employees,” Yordon said, reading a prepared statement.
Moore and Coles said nothing.
Although Norwalk Public Schools in its strategic plan promises to support faculty and staff, “the reality is that very little credit is given to the professional skills or dedication of staff and faculty. Decisions are handed down from Central Office with little explanation and no input,” Yordon continued. “…A respectful culture does not pile 14 hours of work into an eight-hour workday, or have a person do two jobs and then criticize and hold accountable for missing details. A respectful culture understands that we have personal lives and needs and those lives sustain us to do our work on behalf of students.”
The Coalition asked that Board of Education members “constantly inquire” about the origin of plans presented by the administration – did any employee groups contribute to their development?
Yordon suggested questions:
- “How much is expected to be done unpaid beyond the contractual workday for the success of this initiative?”
- “Why is it unpaid work?”
- “Why is this initiative beginning mid-year and with no notice, instead of a strategically planned rollout?”
Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella was not in the room when Yordon spoke to the Board. There was no comment in response, save for BoE member Erica DePalma characterizing “mainstream teachers” as being overworked. Budget cuts could expand classroom sizes and exacerbate the situation, she said.
On Wednesday, Estrella released a statement to NancyOnNorwalk:
“Coming from a very collaborative relationship with union leadership in my prior district, I understood the importance of establishing the same type of rapport in Norwalk. The union coalition formed prior to my arrival as superintendent of Norwalk Public Schools with the purpose of addressing issues and concerns that they had with the district.
“It has been my focus to support our staff and enhance their development so they can provide the best education for our students. In doing so, we have formed a number of collaborative and informational circles to hear from different stakeholders in the district.
“For example, over the last two school years, we have held monthly roundtable discussions with principals, assistant principals, teachers and paraeducators alike to discuss ways in which we could most effectively support them and discuss the impact of initiatives and supports that we could put in place to enhance their work.
“These monthly conversations have yielded significant modifications and shifts to professional development, parent teacher conference calendars, holidays, and other professional priorities such as more planning time. These are a few examples of how we’ve looked for staff feedback because we value their personal time and perspectives.
“Our Principal Shout Outs at monthly board business meetings highlight the outstanding work being done in our individual schools and the incredible people – teachers, paraeducators, counselors, social workers, principals, and support staff – who make it happen on a daily basis.
“For example, Fox Run Principal Carla Monteiro-Walsh highlighted not only the amazing programs in her school such as Wingman and Mindfulness Fridays but also the instructional time built into the school day that directly resulted in Fox Run significantly improving its Next Generation Accountability Index scores.
“This is one of many examples illustrated every month during the superintendent’s report of the board meetings.
“I look forward to continuing to collaborate with all union leaders as we venture into a very challenging budgetary cycle and focusing our work to secure the funding that we need to ensure all our personnel can continue to proudly serve the students of Norwalk.”
Neither Yordon nor Moore responded to a Wednesday email inviting them to elaborate on their complaints.
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